Review: Illum Sphere – Ghosts of Then and Now

Ryan Hunn (alter-ego Illum Sphere) has a lot to live up to with his debut release on Ninja Tune. The label has been a conduit for some of the most interesting electronic music to be released in recent years, with names like Bonobo and Actress on their roster. Ghosts of Then and Now shows us why Hunn deserves to be mentioned among this elite.

Apart from anything else, Ghosts is an impressive display of balance and a light touch. Hunn is rarely heavy handed with his production; he never let’s one element overpower the rest, and the songs never sound crowded or showy. Not only that, but the album works however you choose to listen to it. It’s equally rewarding dipping into individual tracks, or settling down to appreciate the project in its complete form. The songs are meticulously constructed, with layers fluidly dropping in and out, propelling the music along with a life of its own. On the best tracks, everything unfolds so perfectly that you barely notice it happening, but the enthralling collage of textures will repay attentive listening.

There’s a subtle impression of concept about Ghosts; the title evokes a faint nostalgia – vague shadows of the past with a slightly uneasy undertone – and it feels like Hunn has tried to render these ideas musically throughout the album. Having an idea like this to base the music around can often focus production and give an album a sense of continuity, stopping the tracks from jarring with one another. Everything is enveloped with a generous helping of vinyl crackle too, heightening the warmth and giving it a strange air of familiarity.

There are a few weak moments though, especially at the start of the album. The opener ‘Liquesce’ sounds like a half-arsed attempt to emulate the wonderful ‘Prelude’ that introduced Bonobo’s ‘Black Sands’, and ‘The Road’ somehow manages to seem much longer than three and a half minutes, and not in a good way. But for the most part, Ghosts is an impressive debut from Illum Sphere, and essential listening for any fans of Bonobo-esque electronica.

 

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